Ranking the Greatest Detroit Red Wings in Each Decade over the Last 50 Years
Over the last half-century, the Detroit Red Wings have enjoyed colossal success as well as debilitating failure.
From their “Dead Wings” era in the 1970s to their back-to-back titles in the late 90s, the Detroit brand of hockey has endured both ends of professional sports' historic spectrum. Each decade witnessed the beginning of new careers, the development of extraordinary talent and the memories that built Hockeytown.
The Red Wings have experienced one of the most impressive postseason runs in NHL history as they aim for their 23rd consecutive playoff appearance.
With 11 Stanley Cups and 24 Finals appearances, the Detroit Red Wings have been a constant throughout NHL history. Some of the best to wear the winged-wheel are immortalized in the rafters of Joe Louis Arena and in the hearts of the fans. Others represent the character of the city and embody the soul of the franchise.
The players that form this list may overlap in some decades, but are all major contributors to the Red Wings' glowing reputation.
Starting from the 1960s to the present, here are the greatest Detroit Red Wings in each decade over the last 50 years.
1. Gordie Howe
As the all-time leading scorer in Detroit Red Wings history, it is pretty easy to see how Gordie Howe made this list.
During the 1960s, Howe eclipsed the 70-point mark nine times, 80 points twice and had the best season of his career during the 1968-69 season. He scored 44 goals and registered career highs in assists (59) and points (103)—at 41 years old.
On Nov. 10, 1963, Howe scored his 545th career goal, surpassing Montreal’s Maurice “Rocket” Richard for most goals in NHL history. Howe currently ranks second all time in NHL history with 801 goals over his illustrious career.
2. Alex Delvecchio
Alex Delvecchio was the picture of stability throughout his career in the NHL, most prominently in the 1960s.
Delvecchio enjoyed the best year of his career alongside Howe’s with 25 goals and career highs in assists (58) and points (83) during the 1968-69 season.
He scored his career-best 31 goals during the 1965-66 season and would become the second player in NHL history to spend more than 20 seasons with the same team—Howe was the first. Delvecchio holds a special place in the Detroit record books, the hearts of fans and the rafters of Joe Louis Arena.
3. Norm Ullman
Norm Ullman was a bit overshadowed by players like Howe and Delvecchio, but he certainly never failed to impress.
Ullman was a versatile forward that provided excellent scoring depth behind the likes of Howe and Delvecchio. His ability made evident by setting the NHL record for fastest playoff goals, just five seconds apart in Game 5 of the 1965 semifinals against Chicago. Ullman ranks seventh all time in Red Wings scoring with 758 points.
1. Mickey Redmond
Known to most modern Red Wing fans as their television color analyst, Michael “Mickey” Redmond was also a significant offensive force for Detroit during 1970s.
He was the first Red Wing ever to score 50 goals in a season, accomplishing the feat in back-to-back years in ‘73 and ’74.
Unfortunately for Redmond, a lower-back injury caused pain that slowed his scoring pace.
An unsuccessful surgery to repair the problem caused Redmond to retire in 1976 at the age of 29. While he was in the lineup, he amassed 117 goals and 310 points in 317 games with Detroit and was one of the bright spots during Detroit’s “Dead Wings” era.
2. Marcel Dionne
Marcel Dionne was just getting started when he was lighting the lamp for the Red Wings.
Currently ranked as the fifth-highest scorer in NHL history, Dionne totaled 366 points in 309 games during his four years with Detroit.
While he had such a short stint before being traded to Los Angeles, there wasn’t much success to be had in Detroit in the ‘70s. Dionne did, however, score 77 points his rookie season, 40 goals twice and a whopping 121 points during the 1974-75 campaign. He also set a league record with 10 shorthanded goals, broken by Wayne Gretzky in 1983-84.
3. Jim Rutherford
Goaltender Jim Rutherford was probably the most consistent player in Detroit's lineup throughout the ‘70s.
Currently the general manager of the Carolina Hurricanes, Rutherford played 314 games for Detroit during their “Dead Wings” era—fourth most in team history. While his career numbers aren’t the most spectacular, Detroit leaned heavily on their starting goalie through some of the toughest years in franchise history.
Rutherford ranks 10th in team history with 97 wins and 15th with 10 shutouts.
During his time, he had just one winning record while the team posted only two. They made the playoffs twice in the entire decade and lost both in the quarterfinals. While the numbers may not make his case, Rutherford displayed unwavering patience and loyalty to his team and the city during the worst of times.
1. Steve Yzerman
Although he wasn’t the team’s initial choice, Steve Yzerman became exactly what the Detroit Red Wings needed.
After being named captain at just 21 years old, Yzerman would post 90 points in 80 games. The fourth overall pick of the 1983 NHL draft scored 39 goals and 87 points in his rookie season, finishing second in Calder Trophy voting to Buffalo's Tom Barrasso.
He averaged 38 goals per year during his six seasons in the ‘80s, including an impressive 50 goals in 64 games in 1988.
His best season came during the 1988-89 season when he compiled 65 goals and 155 points, the highest total in history for anyone not named Gretzky or Lemieux. He ended the decade with three consecutive 100-point seasons.
2. Gerard Gallant
Gerard Gallant was an excellent complementary player to a talent like Steve Yzerman.
His relentless pursuit of the puck equipped with a natural scoring touch made him a workhorse for the Red Wings. He was a tough player and was never afraid to drop the gloves. He ranks fourth all time in team history with 1,600 penalty minutes.
A four-time 30 goal scorer, Gallant posted his most successful season in 1988-89 when he scored 39 goals, 93 points and accrued 230 penalty minutes. He was the kind of player who could take care of himself as well as others on his team.
3. John Ogrodnick
John Ogrodnick played nine total seasons with the Red Wings, eight of them in the 1980s.
After posting 32 points in 41 games as a rookie, Ogrodnick scored 30 or more goals in five of the next six seasons. He scored over 40 goals three times from 1983-1985, totaling 41, 42 and 55 respectively.
An offensively gifted player, Ogrodnick became an invaluable scoring threat alongside a young Steve Yzerman.
It was in 1984-85 that he had his best season, totaling 55 goals and 105 points. His 55 goals finished fourth in league scoring behind eventual Hall of Famers Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri and Mike Bossy. He played in the NHL All-Star Game five times as a member of the Red Wings.
1. Steve Yzerman
Steve Yzerman continued his torrid scoring pace with three more 100-plus point seasons in the early '90s, totaling six consecutive.
When Detroit brought in Scotty Bowman as head coach before the 1993-94 season, it changed the way Yzerman would play the game and the fortunes for the Detroit Red Wings.
Yzerman was a unique player, who was able to transition seamlessly from a prolific scorer to a two-way leader unlike any other.
His personal humility and drive to win trumped the desire to score, and it turned an offensive Red Wing dynamo into a complete, 200-foot team. His leadership led the Red Wings to three Stanley Cup Finals appearances in four seasons and back-to-back titles in 1997 and 1998. Yzerman also added the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 1998.
2. Sergei Fedorov
Sergei Fedorov absolutely belongs on this list as his size and skill proved to be a formidable combination during his 13 seasons with Detroit.
Fifth all time in team scoring, Fedorov’s 954 points in 908 games are also second-most by a European in franchise history behind Nick Lidstrom.
During the ‘90s, Fedorov only failed to score 20 goals once, in 1998 after missing 61 games due to a contract holdout. He tallied 30 goals six times, including his career-best 56 goals and 120 points in 1993-94. During that season, he would finish second in league scoring behind Wayne Gretzky, and collect the Hart Memorial Trophy, Frank J. Selke Trophy and the Lester B. Patrick Trophy.
3. Nicklas Lidstrom
Nick Lidstrom goes down as one of the best defensemen in NHL history—if not the best.
Lidstrom played in all but 17 games throughout the ‘90s and parlayed that consistency into eight seasons with 40 or more points. His lowest plus/minus rating for the decade was plus-7 in his sophomore season. His 60 points as a rookie made him a finalist for the Calder Trophy but finished second to Pavel Bure.
Lidstrom was steady and reliable on the blue line with an offensive flair that made the game look easy at both ends. He was fundamentally sound and played the game with such fluidity that he rarely had to play too physically and never totaled more than 30 penalty minutes in a season in the ‘90s.
1. Nicklas Lidstrom
It’s hard to imagine, but Nick Lidstrom didn’t earn the league-wide recognition he deserved until the 2000-01 season—his tenth in the NHL.
Lidstrom earned his first career Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman after finishing with 15 goals, 71 points and only 18 penalty minutes in all 82 games. He was also graced with the honor of being named captain after Steve Yzerman’s retirement in 2006.
Lidstrom would go on to win six of seven and seven of the next 10 Norris Trophies.
His seven wins tie him with Doug Harvey for second-most behind Bobby Orr’s eight. He was also the first player to win three straight Norris Trophies since Orr won the last of his eight consecutive in 1975.
Lidstrom would also post his career high in points during the 2005-06 campaign, finishing with 80 points in 80 games—at 36 years old. He is fourth all time in team scoring, and sixth all time among all NHL defensemen.
2. Pavel Datsyuk
Pavel Datsyuk was taken in the sixth round of the 1998 NHL draft and has become one of the biggest steals in NHL history.
The Russian superstar scored 35 points in 70 games his rookie season and helped Detroit win their third Stanley Cup in six years. He would go on to score 20 or more goals in six of the next seven seasons and lead Detroit to another Stanley Cup title in 2008. He would also accumulate the first two of three consecutive Frank J. Selke Trophies and four consecutive Lady Byng awards.
Datsyuk often displays a dazzling array of moves and has some of the best hands the league has ever seen.
He’s deceptively fast and has a penchant for puck pageantry that rivals some of the best to ever play the game.
His development came at a crucial point when Detroit’s veteran leaders were entering the last few years of their career, and his growth became the young support system they needed to maintain their validity as a Cup contender year in and year out.
3. Henrik Zetterberg
Detroit struck gold with Datsyuk in round six, but a year later they’d do it again when they selected Henrik Zetterberg in the seventh round of the 1999 NHL draft.
The smooth-skating Swede was so strong on the puck and not well-known by scouts outside of Detroit’s Hakan Andersson.
Zetterberg made his NHL debut during the 2002-03 season and immediately struck a chord with Datsyuk and Brett Hull as the newest member of the “Two Kids and a Goat” line, replacing Boyd Devereaux.
Zetterberg would grow into another special two-way forward with a natural scoring ability. He would finish second in Calder Trophy voting to St. Louis Blues defenseman Barett Jackman after posting 22 goals and 44 points in 79 games in 2002-03. He would also earn the 2008 Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
1. Pavel Datsyuk
It didn’t take long, but Pavel Datsyuk developed into an elite talent that is renowned league-wide.
Among the best players in the world, his shifty, deceptive style of play makes him the most dangerous player in hockey without the puck. In the midst of his 12th season with Detroit, he currently has 32 points in 35 games and has averaged close to a point per game since his rookie season.
Datsyuk signed a three-year, $23 million extension in June, keeping him in Detroit through the 2016-17 season. Because of their unique eye for talent and innate ability to hold onto major talent, Detroit has another player bound for immortalization. The distinctive flair that Datsyuk provides is sure to be a staple in Red Wings lore.
2. Henrik Zetterberg
What started as the magical tandem of “The Euro-twins,” Henrik Zetterberg has blossomed into a world-class player of his own.
His leadership on and off the ice earned him the honor of being named the 36th captain in team history following the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom and just the third since 1986.
Zetterberg has shown tremendous guidance for young talent and has the respect of his teammates, coaches and opponents alike.
The 33-year-old is signed through the 2020-21 season, likely making him another one of the many Detroit Red Wings lifers. Zetterberg’s 706 career points rank ninth in team history, trailing Ted Lindsay by 22 and Norm Ullman by 52. He’s the special kind of player whose ability transcends the scoresheet and makes him another model leader in Detroit’s rich history.
3. Niklas Kronwall
Niklas Kronwall had the luxury of learning from a true, consummate professional and the one of the best in the game in Nick Lidstrom.
Now that he’s the clear-cut No. 1 defenseman in Detroit’s young corps, Kronwall is saddled with a tough job. At 32 years old, he’s the oldest and most experienced defensemen on Detroit’s roster, something the franchise hasn’t seen in decades.
He has blossomed into a daunting offensive force on the back end, while drastically improving his play in his own zone.
In his 10th season with Detroit, he has a Stanley Cup from 2008 and has only posted a minus rating twice in his career. As a veteran leader on a team growing younger in a hurry, he’s become more valuable to the organization and has matured noticeably since Lidstrom’s retirement.
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